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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter September 2005

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Big Rise in Tourist Numbers Expected for the Coming Season

The numbers of tourists visiting South Georgia in the coming season is likely to rise substantially.
Anything up to a 50% rise is expected, depending on the occupancy of available spaces on the tour ships. Full occupancy would bring around 5600 tourists (3765 came last season), but occupancy rates the last three seasons have varied between 69% and 93%, so the real number of visitors is likely to be anywhere between 3,800 and 5,200.

There are currently six more ship visits booked than last season, a total of 46 visits from 20 different ships. Nine visits are from ships capable of bringing 199 or more passengers, one of which is the very large vessel “Prinsendam” which visits in February. “Prinsendam” is capable of bringing 720 passengers and will only visit Grytviken. The first tour ship, the 300-passenger capacity “Nordnorge”, is due to visit at the end of next month. The season will end in the middle of March 2006.

Eleven yachts have applied to visit so far. The first, “Le Sourire” is due to arrive in mid October. At least four yachts will be involved with various film and photography projects, three will be supporting various expeditions including two different attempts to kayak around the Island, and three will be supporting scientific research projects.


Fines Set for Fishery Court Cases

The owners and charterers of fishing vessel “Ibsa Quinto” have been fined a total of £80,000 plus costs by the Falkland Islands Magistrate Court. Freiremar SA, the vessel owner, and Quark, the vessel charterer, were fined £40,000 each after the court found that toothfish vessel “Ibsa Quinto” had misreported catches and exceeded the vessels TAC (Total Allowable Catch) during the 2004 South Georgia fishing season.

On a separate charge Quark was also fined £2,500 plus costs as owners of the toothfish vessel “Jaqueline” which was found to be in breach of a condition of the license (see Newsletter July 2005).


Visit from “HMS Dumbarton Castle”

“HMS Dumbarton Castle” was on patrol in South Georgia this month. A piper playing on the deck of the vessel as it came alongside the KEP jetty announcing the arrival of a party from the Falkland Resident Infantry Company (RIC) of Kings Own Scottish Borderers.


A piper played as the “HMS Dumbarton Castle” came alongside the jetty at KEP.

The RIC party needed the snowshoes they had brought with them to go on a land patrol as the snow was thick, even at sea level. They took advantage of a handy sealers cave for shelter one night.
The snow was enjoyed by many on shore leave from the ship, who used anything from large metal oil drip trays to the more traditional black plastic bin liners to sledge down the snowy hillsides.

Parent and chick at the edge of one of the large creches of chicks at St Andrews Bay. Photo by Jenn Key.

Five lucky British Antarctic Survey staff were able to join the ship for a two-day trip. The Navy assisted them to restock the hut at St Andrews Bay and remove a large amount of rubbish that had accumulated over a number of years. There was time for many of the Navy personnel to enjoy the wildlife and get some photos of the King Penguin colony before the ship sailed to the southern end of the Island for a very scenic trip up Dryglaski Fjord.

“Pipit” collects the five lucky BAS folk at the end of their trip on “HMS Dumbarton Castle”

Adult King Penguins. Photo by Richard Johnson.
Creche of King Penguin chicks at the end of winter. Photo by Jenn Keys


Not Yet Got That Sinking Feeling

The deliberate sinking of illegal fishing vessel “Elqui”, planned for earlier this month, has not yet taken place (see Newsletter August 2005).

It is hoped the Fisheries Patrol Vessel “Sigma” will be used to tow the prepared ship to the chosen site in Falkland waters, but delays have occurred whilst necessary insurer’s permissions are being sought, last technical difficulties are being sorted out, and the operations will have to be timed to coincide with the short period the FPV “Sigma” is not on patrol in South Georgia and reasonable weather.


New Species of Killer Whale?

It was the Russian whalers of the 1960’ and 70’s who first noted the different appearance of Killer Whales in this region compared to those off northern America and would refer to them as “yellow type Killer Whales”.


A close-up of an adult showing the large eye patch and other distinctive markings of the South Georgia Killer Whales. Photo by Michael Unwin

Now referred to as an “Antarctic dwarf form of Killer Whale”, they are known to be physically smaller than the northern type, about 1.5 metres shorter, with distinctive differences in body markings, including an eye patch almost double the size, a darker dorsal cape and the yellow tinge that caught the Russian whalers eye.

Two of the observers on longline vessels this winter, Michael Unwin and Paul McCarthy, were continuing studies on the local Killer Whale community that may help to have the “Antarctic Dwarf form of Killer Whale” classed as a separate species.

The South Georgia community of Killer Whales has a range of at least 240 miles “basically South Georgia is their playground” Michael Unwin said. The South Georgia community breaks into smaller pods from time to time, one pod seen this year was made up of five large males, seven females or young males, and a calf. The pods can be dynamic in structure and a pod that had 11-14 animals was later seen with more than 20. The hydrophone work the two researchers were also doing this year is building up knowledge of the vocal repertoire of the local Killer Whales. Each community has distinctive vocalisations, but the smaller pods within the community also have their own distinctive calls. With more work on this it will soon be possible to know which pod or sub-pod is in the area without actually seeing any of the animals.
A photo identification catalogue of whales in the South Georgia area, being built up by the two researchers, identifies more than thirty Killer Whales which can be individually recognised using visual clues such as pigmentation patterns and scars. One particularly easily identified local male has a very large chunk out of his dorsal fin.

The two researchers hope to get genetic material in the future that will help to establish the Killer Whales around South Georgia as a separate species.



A small calf swims with one of the South Georgia pods of Antarctic dwarf form of Killer Whales. Photo by Michael Unwin.


New First Day Cover

The newly issued Duncan Carse First Day Cover

The new Duncan Carse stamp issue was released on Sept 26th and is accompanied by a new First Day of Issue collectors cover. The theme of the four-stamp issue and cover is the explorer and broadcaster Duncan Carse, who had strong links with South Georgia (see Newsletter August 2005).

The First Day Cover shows seven members of the South Georgia Survey team (1956) man-hauling a sledge in front of Mount Carse. The special cancellation cachet is based on the Polar medal. Duncan Carse was awarded the Polar Medal and clasp in 1939 for his part in the British Graham Land Expedition in 1934-37, with a second clasp awarded in 1992 for the mapping of South Georgia.

The First day Cover costs £3.55. Details of how to collect South Georgia stamps and First Day Covers are available here.


The Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Mr. Howard Pearce and his wife Caroline announced the arrival of their first child. The baby, named Suzanna, was born in Holland on September 26th.

This was the second baby born to GSGSSI staff this month as earlier Assistant Operations Manager Richard McKee and his wife Miranda had their second child, a daughter named Flora Elizabeth.


South Georgia Snippets

The effects of spring have become more apparent as the month has gone on. Earliest signs were increasing numbers of bull Elephant Seals hauled out on the beaches, their massive bodies punctuating the coast every few tens of metres. The early females have picked their beaches and the first pups were seen on the 17th. The colony at KEP has started to form a good week earlier than last year and we already have our first pups here too, the first one being born on the 27th. The dominant bull is distinctive, we call him “Tattered Nose”, I wont include a photo as it is a bit gruesome! Another distinctive bull we have welcomed back is “Ginger Bull” who has now held a harem in the same spot further round the bay for the last few years.

Large Elephant Seal bull up at the beginning of the breeding season.

The first female Elephant Seal to haul out on KEP.

One of the first Elephant Seal pups seen this season. Photo to Richard Johnson.

The skuas also returned. Four were seen at St Andrews Bay on the 9th and the first were back here at KEP on the 13th.

To mark the end of the quieter winter period, Krissi organised an Oscar ceremony where awards were made, amongst others, in the unlikely categories of: base member that looks most like a film star, won by Steve who does look remarkably like Charles Bronson; and best dressed woman on base, won by Jamie for his memorable appearance as a stewardess.

Other spring arrivals have been the first of the Museum summer staff, Asty Taylor and Christine Kraayvanger. Asty has twice been a BAS field assistant at Husvik in the past.

Less welcome signs of spring have been increased risk of sunburn as the ozone hole stretched over the island. Daily maps sent through from BAS Cambridge predict the extent of the hole so we can note when the ozone is thin above us and take added precautions. Also the first Wood Bittercress seedlings, an invasive plant species we are trying to eradicate, are sprouting as the snow melts on the Point.
Chris Sites, an engineer from the University of California Science Department (UCSD), arrived and will spend a couple of weeks here installing the satellite dish in the dome that was built during the winter. He will wire the dish up to the seismological equipment UCSD have on the Point, later in the summer the base communications will be routed through the same dish, giving us access to a 24hr open link and the ability to use the web.

Various folks have got out and about, as well as the trip for five on “HMS Dumbarton Castle”, Sarah Clarke, Jenn Keys and Tim and Pauline Carr had four days on the Barff Peninsula based at Sorling Valley Hut. Their trip coincided with the big thaw and some very strong winds, gusting to 70 miles per hour. Tim and Pauline were camping in the old historic post hut, below the main hut, and found they had to nail it up to prevent bits being blown off, and reinforce one of the structural supports. Despite the bad weather the group enjoyed day trips to Hound Bay where they saw the first elephant seal pup, Ocean Harbour, and when the weather improved on the last day, a spot of sunbathing at the face of the Nordenskjold glacier where they saw a Chinstrap Penguin. Another Chinstrap came up on the beach outside the main base building at KEP for a night.

Pat Lurcock, Richard Johnson and Will Reid went to Sorling immediately afterwards, and also had day trips to Ocean Harbour and Hound Bay. The snow was rotten by this stage due to continued warm winds, and the two on snowshoes found it hard going, on both trips the journey was not helped by flat light where you can not see the contours ahead on the snow, but the wildlife and historic artifacts including the very intact wreck of the “Bayard”, an iron hulled three-masted sailing ship, and a steam engine at Ocean Harbour made the trek well worth it.

A Weddell Seal hauled out at KEP on the 5th, sending everyone scuttling for their cameras.

We were sorry not to see the American Research ship “Nathaniel B Palmer”. She was expected to call in for a days R and R after a winter research period in the Weddell Sea but was caught in a storm on her way north, which delayed her, so we had the frustration of talking to her on the VHF radio as she sailed by, but not seeing her.

A Weddell Seal hauled out on the Point.

Last mention will go to the four brave RIC lads who decided to go skinny-dipping at the end of their patrol. Well I don’t suppose swimming trunks were an obvious thing to pack for a trip to South Georgia

Our brave lads of the RIC go skinny dipping.


1972 BAS Midwinter Party at KEP

John Kilroy recently submitted this image of the 1972 BAS midwinter party at KEP. If any other readers have interesting images they would wish to submit for publication please send us a message using the Contact Details form here.

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